Ex-MI6 chief in warning on net predators

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Parents must be aware that their children can be tracked online by “predators”, the former head of MI6 has warned.

Sir John Scarlett said that there is a “generational divide”, with teenagers and young people in their early 20s much more relaxed about the information they share through the internet than those who are even just a few years older than them.

He also suggested the public should be more worried about threats from terrorists and international criminal networks than Government snooping.

Ahead of a speech at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) annual meeting in Newport, south Wales, Sir John said that the world, and above all the technological environment, has rapidly changed. The former spy chief warned that, in general, there is “no absolute protection” against a determined online attack, adding it is vital to know what young people are learning online.

The public can protect themselves by using passwords and other measures against 80 per cent of intrusions, he suggested, but “everybody has to understand that you can’t be absolutely certain that somebody won’t get it”.

Sir John, who was chief of the Secret Intelligence Service for five years, said: “You’ve got to know what your children are doing. They are extremely vulnerable, everybody is, to a whole range of things. Clearly when they’re young children they’re particularly vulnerable to predators.”

This includes sexual predators, he agreed.

Sir John said the “basic advice” is to teach children common sense values to stick to such as being aware of the information they give out and how they express themselves.